The Big Bad Banksia Man

Many children would be familiar with ‘The Big Bad Banksia Men’ from May Gibbs’ stories of the Australian gumnut babies, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.

But did you know?

The Big Bad Banksia Men were based on the old ‘bristly-haired’ flower spikes of Banksia serrata, known as ‘Old Man Banksia’ or ‘Saw Banksia’- (refers to saw-toothed leaves). 

In Aboriginal (Cadigal) language, Banksia serrata is known as Wiriyagan.

Sir Joseph Banks collected the first Banksia specimens at Botany Bay (Sydney), whilst onboard HMB Endeavour, during Captain James Cook’s ‘Voyage of Discovery’ in 1770.

The genus Banksia was named in honour of Sir Joseph Banks.

Banksia serrata is native (endemic) to Australia, with 16 species on the East Coast and 60 species in the south of Western Australia (a hotspot of diversity).


The Big Bad Banksia Men were based on the old ‘bristly-haired’ flower spikes of Banksia serrata, known as ‘Old Man Banksia’ or ‘Saw Banksia’- (refers to saw-toothed leaves). 

In Aboriginal (Cadigal) language, Banksia serrata is known as Wiriyagan.

Sir Joseph Banks collected the first Banksia specimens at Botany Bay (Sydney), whilst onboard HMB Endeavour, during Captain James Cook’s ‘Voyage of Discovery’ in 1770.

The genus Banksia was named in honour of Sir Joseph Banks.

Banksia serrata is native (endemic) to Australia, with 16 species on the East Coast and 60 species in the south of Western Australia (a hotspot of diversity).

When you are next out in Nature, see if you can spot Banksia serrata
Look for:

A shrub or tree up to 16m tall.

Gnarled (knobbly), grey-brown stems and branches with crumbly bark. 

Serrated leaves formed in whorls beneath the flower spike (inflorescence). 

Banksia serrata plants survive bushfires by producing new shoots from dormant buds beneath thick bark at or below ground level. They are known as ‘epicormic shoots.’ 

Flower spikes 15cm long, cream-green in colour, blooming from December to March.

Mature, brown flower spikes with wiry bristles (pointing downwards) and large eyes that resemble an ‘Old Man’. 

Each seedpod contains one or two winged seeds that are released after fire and fly long distances to settle in new areas.

So, look out for those ‘Big Bad Banksia Men’they just might have their eyes on you!
Dr Aniuzka & Dr Fiona

Young Naturalists can discover more about the genus Banksia by-

*Exploring the Joseph Banks Native Plants Reserve in Kareela, NSW. Visiting May Gibbs’ home, ‘Nutcote Cottage’ https://www.maygibbs.com.au/
*Exploring our National Parks & visiting Kamay-Botany Bay NP Discovery Centre.


The Young Naturalist is the brainchild of two scientists, who have combined their passions for Nature and education with their scientific training in botany, taxonomy, microscopy, mycology, entomology, and biodiversity.

We deliver innovative and engaging Nature Education Workshops and participation in Citizen Science for children as school incursions, after-school programs, and vacation workshops, aligned with the Living World curriculum.

The Young Naturalist

The Young Naturalist is a social enterprise providing children’s science-based Nature education programs.





Connect with us



Dr Fiona H. L. Benyon

(+61) 423 052 692
youngnaturalist.au@gmail.com

Dr Aniuzka Kazandjian

(+61) 497 761 326
theyoungnaturalistau@gmail.com




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